Jenny Fried ~ Grandmother in Blue

My grand­moth­er is made from feath­ers, pho­to clip­pings and pet­ri­fied wood. Keeps a cac­tus in my aunt’s house, bleeds dust in the door. My grand­moth­er buried, she walks on all fours, long claws obscured in sand and in salt. Sharp paint­ed frag­ments of blue bot­tle glass.

My grand­moth­er paint­ed, made paint from the land, nee­dle pines and dirty streams. Sucked the blood from under an eel’s eye for red. Drained water from the earth for yel­low pol­lens, scraped orange stone to flak­ing sand. Her paint­ing in my parent’s house, a vase a bulb of flow­ers. I always found a face inside, a bald man in a dress and kid gloves. I watched him each day as I walked the steps. The flower man was always silent, some­how proud in his bloom­ing skin.

I was called a fag­got first when I was four, an old­er child watched me as I walked. Told no one, remem­bered some years lat­er as the word left my grandfather’s mouth. Before he died I drew him cir­cuits on nap­kins, traced his fin­gers down the out­lines where cur­rent would flow. In that moment, per­haps he saw a man. In a 1986 inter­view with a local news­pa­per, my grand­moth­er said she only paint­ed women.

 

My grandmother’s house at the cen­ter of the desert. Water and grow­ing she sucked from the ground, emp­ty sand and scraps of paint. I walk for days in my grandmother’s desert, eat lizards when I stop, suck red from their bod­ies when my water runs out. To catch them I bury myself in the sand, lure them with still­ness and bask­ing warmth. At night I fol­low my grandmother’s tracks. She watch­es me, fol­lows, she clicks her claws togeth­er. I walk faster when I hear her, run from red in the dark, fol­low her foot­prints always as I go.

 

My father keeps three grand­moth­er pho­tos. One black and white: her on a bench, smok­ing. One black and white: young and a head­shot, hair cropped short and grass in behind. The last is in col­or, eyes behind red. In col­or, I like to imag­ine her green. I do not ask my father, watch my own eyes in the mir­ror. I clutch the sink and I hold on.

My aunt does not speak of her, makes pot roast from her recipe, orange gravy spread on top. Carrots and soup mix and things I can­not see in a blender before the meat. It is a strange dish, watery and sweet. My grand­fa­ther tried to cook it when I was small, but always left the meat raw. Knew chem­istry but not how hot those car­bon bonds broke down. So many things I taught myself but how to cook hurt most.

 

My grand­moth­er pieced from tis­sue paper. My grand­moth­er pieced from salt­ed glass. My grand­moth­er in my father’s voice, whis­pered down­stairs when he thinks I am asleep. How she would leave for days with­out a word, my father’s meals a bowl of shriv­eled raisins. My grand­moth­er drink­ing my grand­moth­er howl­ing my grand­moth­er pac­ing my grand­moth­er gone.

A thanks­giv­ing: I stand in the door­frame of two rooms. My uncles sit and drink in one. In the oth­er, my aunt has bro­ken glass, soaked her clothes with boil­ing water. The oth­er aunts have pulled a chair for her, rubbed mus­tard on her legs. I won­der who told them how to fight a burn. How fast they worked how fast they filled the space. They leave to take her up to bed, they leave the kitchen emp­ty. I sweep the glass shards off the floor.

A vac­u­um, a gap can be filled by a ghost, spaced mol­e­cules, gas, by a trail of thin smoke. How else to build a bridge but by inven­tion? My grand­moth­er tiled her bath­room with shells, rocks with white stripes and a fish carved from glass. I fol­low the shape of the fish with my fin­ger, sit on the tile floor and breath, run the water until I hear voic­es at the door.

 

My grandmother’s house in the cen­ter of the desert. Broken blue win­dows and bird bones inside. Claw marks on the door­knob, shed down on the floor. Slashed pil­lows, I think as the sun beats down. I sit on the floor and wait but she doesn’t come. There is howl­ing in the base­ment, the shriek of dying lizards. My hand along the pine, and lat­er on the oak.

 

My grandmother’s stu­dio, splin­ter­ing floors. My grand­moth­er shred­ded in news­pa­per clip­pings, soft desert snow on splin­tered ply. Canvases spread and slashed, old women walk­ing the street in red squares. Flowers spread on can­vas where women should be. I stack these in a cor­ner, bury them in paper, snapped brush­es and fall­en saw­dust. I dig to the floor and find it whole, wood cheap but unmarked, no fur­rows for her claws. A check­list as I walk about the room. My grand­moth­er in splat­tered paint, my grand­moth­er in sun. My grand­moth­er in splin­ters, in burns and bro­ken nails. On the stairs there is a creak, anoth­er, and I close my eyes, imag­ine her crazy and chip-toothed like me, hold her fish of glass steady in my mind, her eyes the way I want them. My grand­moth­er at the top of the stairs, in breath and air and creak­ing wood. I turn to face the door­way. In a moment I will see her, look down from shaky bridges, the blue around the pupils in the cen­ter her eyes.

~

Jenny Fried is a writer liv­ing in Virginia. Her work has appeared pre­vi­ous­ly in Wigleaf, X‑R-A‑Y, Cheap Pop, and oth­er mag­a­zines. Find her online here.